by Zia Ur Rehman

June 18, 2012

KARACHI – In a bid to counter the transmission of negative propaganda by banned militant outfits through the media, the Pakistani government has issued an updated list of 40 banned organisations that it doesn’t want TV channels to cover.

Media coverage emboldens militants, security analysts and government officials contend.

A news vendor puts the latest newspaper on the gate of a closed shop in Abbottabad in May 2011. New media regulations prohibit coverage that glorifies or promotes the message of militant groups. [REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro]
The Federal Home Department recently updated the list of banned religious and militant groups and charity organisations, Daily Express reported May 22.

The list issued by the Federal Home Department includes the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) , al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi, Lashkar-e-Islam, Haji Namdaar Group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jamiat-ul-Furqan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan, Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan, Khidam-e-Islam, Muslim Students Organisation Gilgit Baltistan, Tehreek-e-Islami and other organisations, Daily Express reported May 22.

The TTP, al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban have links to many of the groups listed.

Three charity organisations – Al-Rasheed Trust, Al-Akhter Trust and Jammat-ud Dawa – are also included, whereas Sunni Tehreek has been put on the watch list, the report adds.

On May 21, the Federal Home Department issued the list of 40 banned outfits to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA), a governmental body that regulates private electronic channels.

Media coverage encourages Taliban militants

PEMRA directed all private TV channels not to give coverage to outlawed outfits included in the updated list, Daily Awam reported May 22.

The directive is intended to prevent the groups from promoting and justifying their activities. Prohibited are interviews with members of the groups and coverage of political and religious statements as well as airing of videos and recordings that support their goals. The directive does not prohibit coverage of terrorist acts the groups commit or attribution of such attacks to groups who claim responsibility.

“The recent decision to impose a ban on providing coverage to banned militants outfits seems an attempt to stop the inadvertent glorification of the terror groups in Pakistan,” said Abdul Basit, a security analyst associated with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism, a Singapore-based think tank.

Pakistani electronic media have provided airtime to banned militant outfits in a bid to convey both the governmental and militant points of view, Basit said. But some journalists who sympathise with militants have given them more airtime and, knowingly or unknowingly, promoted their viewpoint, he told Central Asia Online.

“It is necessary that media personnel should make sure that … they do not become a tool in glorification of these terrorist outfits,” he stressed.

“The portrayal of militancy in the print and electronic media sends horrifying messages to the public,” said Muhammad Hafeez, a Karachi-based civil society activist. “The Taliban, who are killing innocent people … are drawing strength from media coverage.”

The media should highlight human rights abuses and massacres of the innocent by the Taliban, he stressed.

Pakistani law prohibits media from promoting the activities of banned outfits, especially Taliban militants, legal scholars say.

“Section 11(W) of the Anti-terrorism Act 1997 is very clear about the role of the media while printing, publishing or disseminating any material to incite hatred or coverage of any person convicted for a terrorist act or any proscribed organisation,” said Ashraf Hussain, a legal practitioner.

“A person commits an offence if he prints, publishes or disseminates any material, whether by audio or video-cassettes or by written, photographic, electronic, digital, wall-chalking or any other method which incites religious, sectarian or ethnic hatred or gives projection to any person convicted for a terrorist act, or any person or organisation concerned in terrorism or proscribed organisation or an organisation placed under observation,” sub-section (1) of that law says.

The law stipulates a maximum of six months’ imprisonment and a fine for anyone convicted under sub-section (1), Hussain told Central Asia Online.

However, media organisations flout the law, Hafeez and Hussain both said. Some organisations have paid a price for doing so. In January 2011, PEMRA fined two satellite TV channels, SAMAA and Waqt TV, Rs. 1m ($10,600) each for broadcasting images of terrorists and their bloody handiwork.

Double-edged sword for journalists

Publicity-hungry Taliban militants have killed Pakistani journalists when media coverage turned elsewhere, media personnel and analysts say. Pakistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, analysts add.

“When journalists promote one side’s view, the Taliban threaten them and on many occasions killed the journalist who refused to accommodate their viewpoint or did (allegedly) one-sided reporting,” Basit said.

Forty-two journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2002, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based group. Most of them were killed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The first reporters to die in FATA and KP were Allah Noor and Amir Nawab, killed in 2005 in the Wana area, South Waziristan.

Most recently, Mukarram Khan Atif, a Mohmand Agency-based reporter, was killed in January in Charsadda District, KP, by unknown gunmen. The TTP later took responsibility for his death and threatened to kill other reporters.

A wave of terrorism against journalists has engulfed all Pakistan, lamented Yousaf Amin, secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

On February 12, that wave lapped up against senior Karachi-based journalist Ashraf Khan, who received a threatening letter in Urdu from Abu Hamza Kalachvi, the self-proclaimed chief of the TTP Karachi chapter. Kalachvi was angered that Khan had written stories on the operations of Taliban militant outfits in the city, the Asian Human Rights Commission said in a statement.

Khan and his family have gone into hiding.

In Swat, which the Taliban controlled in 2007-2009, the militants would warn reporters of dire consequences if they failed to cover them in a “proper” light, recalled a senior journalist in Swat, requesting anonymity for security reasons.

The militants have sent pamphlets to journalists, titled “Intebah”(“A warning”), that were issued by the commander of the fidayeen (suicide bombers) section of the TTP, he said.